We’ve all heard the jokes: • Chuck Norris counted to infinity – twice. • If you can see Chuck Norris, he can see you. If you can’t see Chuck Norris you may be only seconds away from death. • When the Boogeyman goes to sleep every night he checks his closet for Chuck Norris.
There are thousands more, the (mostly) politically correct version of the Helen Keller jokes of many eons ago. Chuck Norris and I go way back. Not the actual guy, I’ll get to him in a moment, but the chopsocky action superstar that graced the screen in Kung Fu classics like Enter the Dragon. I say “graced” the screen with a bit of humor since an early review of Chuck Norris’ talent said he had the screen presence of a “toaster oven.” But persistence in the face of innumerable odds, whether onscreen in fictional situations or onscreen with actual acting challenges, is part of Norris’ continuing appeal.
I wasn’t really a fan until Lone Wolf McQuade where our hero is buried alive in his Supercharged Dodge by the evil David Carradine. What does he do? He drives out of his grave in an American-made vehicle and proceeds to make Carradine wish he’d never been Little Grasshopper. It’s that sheer chutzpah that Norris has both onscreen and off that has made him some weird sort of cultural hero. So when I read in our own publication that Norris is “downsizing,” I wondered if it were the end of an era – or worse Chuck Norris jokes. In case you didn’t see it, here’s a recap:
“Need space to practice roundhouse kicks and fist-enforced Texas justice? You’re in luck: The spacious Dallas home once owned by Chuck Norris, complete with a gym featuring memorabilia from his Walker, Texas Ranger television series, is on the market. The Mediterranean ranch-style home in the tony Dallas neighborhood of Northwood Hills also was the on-screen residence of Cordell Walker, the roundhouse-kicking Texas Ranger who battled villainy at every turn.” Indeed he did and I was right there with him. No, I wasn’t Walker’s right hand man, I was simply one of several hundred people who were extras on the show that was filmed primarily in the Fort Worth-Dallas area.
I was a freelance writer then and there was a lot of downtime sometimes. I had done a lot of stage work in my past, so I had a few friends who invited me to do some extra work. If you don’t know what extra work is, it is primarily sitting around drinking coffee and making comments about the quality, or lack thereof, of the craft services (i.e. food), followed by a couple of minutes of standing in the background doing something quietly (always quietly) while the big guns do their scenes for the camera. Yes, you’re set dressing that moves.
This was in the early days of cell phones, but we usually had decent enough service to make phone calls and such during the unrelenting downtime between shots. I remember getting a phone call for one of my biggest assignments as a freelancer dressed as a deputy sheriff. Walker was filming on McKinney’s town square in 110 degree heat that day, but I was walking on air. This was the episode where Walker’s girlfriend, Alex Cahill, was kidnapped…oh I forgot that was nearly every episode. I’m often asked, “Which episodes of Walker can we see you in?” The answer: None. Oh, you might catch a glimpse of me if you’re really, really quick with the pause button, but to be honest I can’t tell if it ever made one whit of difference if I was there or not. I also got to meet and began to understand the culture of the extra. There were several types among the cast of extras and I was one: the entrepreneur biding his time.
Other types were:
* The “I’m going to be a famous actor (or actress) so I’m taking this very, very seriously”-type;
* The “I’m just as important to this scene as Chuck Norris”-type
* The “Let me sell you some Amway while we’re waiting”-type
* The “I’m retired, but I’m tired of the grandkids”-type
* The “Let’s hook-up later”-type;
* And the loveable, charming but doomed “I’m going to go ask Chuck Norris for an autograph and tell him what a big fan I am”-type.
I don’t regret my time there. We filmed at Mark Cuban’s house. We filmed in a strip club once. We filmed at the Tarrant County Courthouse. I listened to guest star Ernest Borgnine bring filming to a halt as he entertained the cast and the extras with his memories of Hollywood in the Golden Age.
I also got to watch at least one, maybe two houses blow up. I saw stunt men (and women) do some really cool stuff. And I got to see Chuck perform his Martial Arts wizardry – impressive, believe me. While you can’t see me in Walker, Texas Ranger, the work I did on Walker led me to get called for work on Spy Kids II, filmed in Arlington and Austin. I was a featured extra there and got some decent screen time, particularly at the beginning of the film. Thanks Chuck. So even though Chuck is “downsizing,” when the Boogeyman goes to sleep every night, he still checks his closet for Chuck Norris.
In Market is a column written from the perspective of a plugged-in business journalist about business happenings in and around Tarrant County. Got an idea for In Market? Robert Francis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.